And now, weighty musings on heady topics.
But first, nekkid boys, because we figure most of you will skip right past our weighty musings to get to the meaty weightlifters. Suffice it to say, the gay male beauty ideal and the iconic figure of the ripped muscle guy in a Speedo or other form of grape-smuggler can be traced directly to the physique mags of the mid-twentieth century which, much like the lesbian pulp fiction blooming on the drugstore spinner rack at roughly the same time, were a hidden gateway for queer men to express their desires at a time when gay porn was illegal to own.
And when we say “express their desires,” we mean spanking it, of course. More thoughts after the meat platter is served.
Do you need a moment? A glass of water? A bag to breathe into? We’ll wait.
Okay, we’re back. You’ll note that many of these covers were illustrated, which isn’t surprising, since the type of men being depicted in physique mag illustrations tend to be fairly exaggerated in their proportions. The two artists most often used for this type of work were Toukko Laaksonen (known as Tom of Finland to generations of queer men) and George Quaintance. Both of these artists were working in the same mode as their forebear J.C. Leyendecker, who created many of the sexual archetypes these two artists developed into full-blown iconhood – the cowboys and cops and construction workers and lumberjacks that make up the gay male toybox of sexual action figures (which found its most mainstream representation in The Village People).
These magazines were, believe it or not, sold as actual health and fitness mags – or at least, that was the cover that allowed most of them to operate legally. Both the lesbian pulp fiction genre (which was marketed to straight men as erotica) and the physique mags were a form of queer sexual espionage, sneaking the desires of gay people out into the world by casting a thin veneer of male heterosexual respectability over them. Much more on all of this, including profiles of the artists Quaintance and Tom of Finland, as well as one of Bob Mizer, the legendary publisher of Physique Pictorial and other such mags can be found in our book Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, in the chapter on The Pit Crew entitled “For Every Tuck, There Must Come a Bulge.”
And for more on all THAT, you should definitely check out this fun interview we did with Manuel Betancourt for MEL magazineon the topic of our book, the Pit Crew, the longstanding relationship between the Muscle Mary figure and drag queens, and the legendary figures in queer history who more or less invented the iconic erotic image of the square-jawed muscle dude in a brief:
“Part of the reason the ‘muscle Mary’ image and this drag queen image exists side-by-side,” Fitzgerald explains, “is because in both cases, they’re extreme representations of gender performance shot through a very queer lens. Drag is about commenting on gender performance from a queer perspective, and our collective obsession with this muscle male icon is about expressing our sexual attraction to them.”
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